The Making of Fleeting Opera 2000
by Max Couper
There was an irony in performing the opera to Parliament, our modern day court, and in the introduction of the spoken word. This brought the piece by accident back to the origins of early opera itself, as well as fusing a lot of elements including ballet and theatre. Opera was born in Italy out of the combination of spectacle and music performed for the court, with experiments to revive the use of speech, as they had imagined it in ancient Greek theatre.
In the opera itself, the event polarised around the chemistry between three extraordinary women; the dancer Deborah Bull, the actress Judi Dench and the soprano Kate McCarney.
The tide of the
river flowing in was the life at the heart of the opera, the returning force
of renewal. Throughout there was a continuous struggle going on, of the winchmen
pulling the barges together and apart against the force of the tide and the
screw of the tugboat. All of these activities were being marshalled and controlled
by a production crew deep inside one barge and invisible to the audience.
Inside the other barge was a mass of sound equipment and engineers being co-ordinated
by Trevor Wishart, whose only contact with the performance was through headphones.
Ahead in the tugboat I had the delicate task of keeping the barges from snaking
about too much and at the right distance from the audience on the bank, whilst
The opera was dominated both evenings by an unusually vivid summer’s sky. It veered from a turquoise blue early on, to cobalt blue as the night deepened. My over-riding memory is of the orange silk of the performers’ garments against the blue of the sky, combined with the motion of dancers, and a soundscape emanating from the barges that echoed all around the river. Finally arriving at Parliament seemed like the most bizarre of historical time-warps - aware that this was the first waterborne pageant to have arrived there since the middle ages.
The function of the dance was to be a seduction and animation between the boats; linking the singers, the musicians and the sound-track into an interactive whole. The whole fleeting opera becoming a vehicle of movement, light and sound transmitted over the water, with the dance as the dynamic drive element. The boats were moving, the water was flowing under them, and the audience was walking alongside – creating motion upon motion upon motion, and medium upon medium upon medium. The seduction of the dance was an intensely erotic one, which focused the attention of the viewer despite the huge scale of the surroundings.
The performers created, in their imagination, a figment of what this event meant to them. In reality, the sheer fact of a stage in motion, affected by tide, wind and tow, created a respect for the natural elements that could not have been duplicated in a rehearsal on dry land.